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ROME – One of the officials appointed to help solve Italy’s drawn-out government impasse was caught bad-talking media tycoon and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on a radio station’s prank call.
Valerio Onida, one of the 10 so-called “wise men” appointed by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to help find a way out of Italy’s six-week-long political stalemate, was not wise enough to figure out the caller posing as Margherita Hack, a friend, was really an impersonator from Radio 24.
During the call, which was broadcast, Onida said Napolitano’s plan for solving the crisis would not work — “we wise men are most likely useless,” he said – and, asked about Berlusconi. Onida offered, “he’s old; let’s hope he decides to enjoy his old age and leave Italians in peace.”
He added: “Berlusconi, of course, hopes to find some advantage or protection” against his legal problems.
The call-in is reminiscent of a tragic event in December, when Australian DJs pretending to be British Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles called the hospital for an update on the condition of Kate Middleton, the pregnant wife of Charles’ son Prince William. The prank backfired when the nurse who answered the call and readily provided the information requested was found dead in an apparent suicide.
That does not appear to be a risk in the case involving Onida, though the former judge apologized for his remarks on Friday.
The 76-year-old Berlusconi, a billionare, has been sentenced to a total of five years behind bars in two verdicts in the last six months (both are under appeal) and could be sentenced to as many as 15 more in a case in which he faces charges of abuse of power and having paid an underage erotic dancer, Karima el-Mahroug, for sex. El-Mahroug, best known by her stage name Ruby the Heartstealer, on Thursday earned headlines when she complained about not being called to testify in the case.
Berlusconi, along with center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani and anti-establishment figure Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, are locked in a political battle to determine control of Italy’s Senate. Without control under one coalition, nobody can form a government.
Bersani, whose allies have control over the lower house of parliament, has failed in his attempt to cobble together a majority in the Senate. In an attempt to resolve the problems, Napolitano formed the committee of “wise men” to seek a resolution to the process.
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